Sex crimes prosecutors pressing on

Kudos to the Manhattan district attorney’s office, and particularly to lead prosecutor Joan Illuzzi-Orbon and her team, on getting a guilty verdict in the Harvey Weinstein case. As we all recognize, the case was a major challenge.
Placing this verdict in historical perspective makes it even more significant. Until the early 1970s, virtually no sex crimes case could be prosecuted because of onerous legal roadblocks, specifically corroboration requirements. Three elements — identity, force and penetration — had to be corroborated by additional evidence.
I prosecuted my first rape case in 1970: Two women snatched off the streets of New York City’s Lower East Side, and forced to watch each other being raped and robbed. Because we could only corroborate elements of identity and force and attempted penetration, the judge threw out the sex-crimes charges. (The defendant was convicted of robbery, given a light sentence and went on to rape again.)
That case galvanized us in the Manhattan District Attorneys’ Office to fight for the repeal of all corroboration requirements. It was a tough battle, with a lot of opposition, and took us four years to prevail. Then, sick of rape victims having to recount in the courtroom every detail of their irrelevant past sexual activities, another woman and I wrote New York’s rape shield law, which protects women from much of this humiliation.
The biggest battle, historically, was having people understand that a sex crime is not primarily a crime of sex, but a crime of control, humiliation and degradation. How do you convince a jury that continuing relationships with your rapist, saying nice things about him, even recanting, and engaging in other seemingly counterintuitive behavior is part of the norm for many victims of these heinous crimes?
The answer may lie in expert testimony, which we won the right to present. Such testimony explains, as in the Weinstein case, why the trauma of rape victims is unique and may cause victims to act this way. The Weinstein jury heard such testimony and understood it.
What has not changed very much is the defense strategy of painting rape victims as the guilty parties and the defendant as the true victim, as we just saw in the Weinstein case. This approach may never change, but it appears that jurors are now capable of seeing through it.
I believe Weinstein believes he did nothing wrong and that he is the victim. Fortunately, 12 jurors found otherwise.
Hopefully, a new era in sex crimes prosecutions has begun.

Leslie Crocker Snyder is a retired judge of the New York State Supreme Court and founder and chief of the New York County Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit,